Make No Mistake: To Err IS Human
Here is an excerpt from the script for a program produced for CBS Sunday Morning by CBSNews.
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The humble popsicle was invented – by mistake! – when some soda pop with a stick in it was accidentally allowed to freeze. We’re constantly making mistakes, lucky and unlucky ones, and to think we can avoid mistakes entirely is only compounding the error. Our Cover Story is reported now by Susan Spencer of 48 Hours.
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Erasers … delete buttons … spot removers … that annoying woman on the GPS device (“Recalculating…”) … all depressing evidence of the obvious:
We’re destined to make mistakes.
Documentary filmmaker Ric Burns says it may be history’s greatest lesson: Mistakes happen … again and again … from missteps to miscues, to misadventures with happy outcomes.
“The great example being Henry Hudson looking for the Northwest Passage to China and discovering, whether it wasn’t the biggest mistake in the world or not, New York City,” said Burns. “So, you know, I love thinking of America as being really one of the grandest mistakes of navigation in the history of navigation.”
Luckily, our more frequent mistakes are on a much smaller scale.
“You know, a hand reaches across the table and hits the glass. We thought we were moving in the right direction, or the pencil point breaks,” said Burns. “All the trivial mistakes that kind of litter every day of all of our lives.
But “trivial mistakes” are no trivial matter for Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Joseph T. Hallinan. His new book‘s call to action: banish blunders.
All right, what do we do to get better?
“Checklists: write things down,” Hallinan told Spencer. “Just last month the New England Journal of Medicine came out with a study, they looked at doctors at eight hospitals around the world and said, ‘Before you operate on a patient, just try a checklist. Write down the things you need to do.’ Really basic things, like ask the patient his name, so you know it’s the right person.
“They found that when doctors used these checklists, surgical death rates were cut by nearly in half.”
Hallinan (left) has his own checklist, tips to cut down on mistakes, things like: Get more sleep, and do one thing at a time.
“If your goal is not to make mistakes, I would avoid multitasking,” he said. “A group at Harvard just looked at talking on the cell phone while driving. They found that when people do that, they cause 636,000 accidents a year, six percent of the total of all accidents, and they cause 2,600 deaths a year.
“People think, ‘Oh, I’ve got a hands-free device, I don’t have to worry.’ Your hands aren’t the problem; it’s your brain. Your brain is clogged up trying to figure out all these messages. And it’s got limits. It can’t do it all.”
Even more disheartening, our limited brains seem to be hard-wired to make mistakes because of the way we process information.
“It’s a very highly efficient system which is not to say it’s always accurate,” Hallinan said. “And the trade-off we make is usually we’ll trade accuracy for speed.”
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